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What the Living Do: Poems Paperback – April 17, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This compassionate memorial to illness and the loss of Howe's brother, John, and other friends ably depicts the growth and development of personal bonds against which "post-modern brokenness" is measured. (Howe has also coedited an important collection of essays about AIDS, In the Company of My Solitude, LJ 7/95). This thoughtful analysis of elements of grief ("a living remedy") will perhaps help to ease trauma of death, as does Robert Frost's "Home Burial," but full comprehension of "cherishing" and pain after "the wake and the funeral" seems impossible. The best of these empathetic poems demonstrate a longing for wholeness and appreciation of the "terrified and radiant" mysteries of silence. Sharing "a secret, unrecoverable history" of father, brothers, sisters, and friends?"what the living do"?Howe creates the first draft of a contemporary woman's spiritual biography. For larger collections.?Frank Allen, North Hampton Community Coll., Tannersville, Pa.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

The love in this book is tangible and redemptive. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Her verse is almost unornamented though she manages some great gift of will and expression to convey the sharpest feeling in long, graceful lines that seem to breathe on the page.... Despite the fathomless pain inherent in these poems, Howe never succumbs to sentimentality or self-pity; her tone is passionate yet detached, her vocabulary and imagery evocative, appropriate, and devastating. (Memphis Commercial Appeal)

Howe is a truth-teller of the first order. Fearless in presenting unfiltered experiences, she interweaves her simple, economical language into long, subordinated sentences, loose, enjambed couplets that spill compellingly down the page with near-invisible artistry. (Providence Sunday Journal)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393318869
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393318869
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #204,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By molly@oro.net on December 16, 1997
Format: Hardcover
I have been carrying around a copy of the title poem from this book ever since I saw it in the Atlantic years ago - and waiting and waiting for Howe's second book to come out. It's worth the wait - a chilling and stunning and beautiful collection of poems, written so straightforwardly, as if Howe were just talking to herself as she walked down the street, or to us over coffee. It takes very hard work to make poetry sound so open and easy, and the style is exactly right for the seriousness of her subject(s): death, child abuse, love. Marie Howe is able to hold the pain in her heart up to the light, and is generous enough to let us stand there for a while with her.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 10, 1997
Format: Hardcover
People have often told me that hearing the word "poetry" sets off high school nightmares of having to "interpret" or decode literature. Such reactions never cease to disappoint me, considering everyone first experiences language through poetry, the playfulness of words. The innate melodies and rhythms that those first tunes bring to life in our early years are revived in Marie Howe's second book of poetry "What the Living Do". Striving for relentless clarity of language and image, Howe has written a painful celebration of "what the living do" after the death of a loved one. These verses, however, are by no means juvenile, confronting head-on the life and death of her brother John as well as the death of poet Jane Kenyon. And amid the suffering Howe's poetry insists there is room for love, for making love. Whatever loss that the poet endures because of her brother's death is countered (complemented perhaps) by her ability to be intimate and inexorably human amid the living. The poems are powerfully memorable, pushing for an aesthetic that is personal yet connective, accessible yet multi-layered. Writing in a language that is uniquely hers and yet entirely ours for the taking, Marie Howe's "What the Living Do" instructs us on how she has found that both praise and misery can undoubtedly inhabit the same swirling space.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By LK on December 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
"Anything I've ever tried to keep by force I've lost."

Marie Howe captures the gut feelings of living in her striking book of poetry. The pain of losing her brother to AIDs resonates through the later poems, while the earlier focus on the manic emotions of childhood. Even people uncomfortable with poetry will enjoy reading the universal memories she's translated so touchingly into the written word. This is not esoteric verse: it is clean, familiar, moving moments of time frozen under the glass of a copyright. Howe expresses just what the living do as a melody that swoops and soars. She also underscores her poetry with a deep harmony indicative of the void in life, a hole in one's heart that was once devoted to a loved one.

"But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass, say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless: I am living, I remember you."
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Janee J. Baugher on September 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
This collection of poetry, reads like a novel in which Howe utilizes first person, present tense domestic narratives. What impressed me was the immediacy of these poems. The organic form of one long line followed by a shorter line creates a dramatic effect of a leading breath. These highly accessible poems have an epistemological and cognitive bent: Howe doesn't muddle her readers with loose tangents and inconsequential associations. She portrays amazingly vivid moments without overstating. In a succinct manner, the poet describes volumes in concrete language. The eloquency of her poetry is its simplicity.

The poems in the first section examine what we do as children to unveil our new world. We learn from our older siblings (The Boy); we learn to ask, seek, and sometimes demand help (Sixth Grade); we experience and experiment (Practicing); we liken our world to the fantastical (The Mother and In The Movies); we come to understand the value of being a confidant (Beth); we distinguish the difference between the public and the private (The Fruit Cellar); and we learn how to control our environment (The Game). These are seemingly personal anecdotes for the poet but which have universal meaning. Literal and figurative parallelism is applied in The Attic where the brother is, "building the imaginary building/on the drawing board...." And later, when his sister needs him emotionally, "he's building a world..." a safe haven for her. These moments are bittersweet, savory, palpable.

The second section confronts death and dying. When the speaker thinks her brother has died, the poet uses repetition to create tension and frustration: "and we couldn't wake him,/we couldn't wake him....
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Ashraf O. on September 18, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The value of life haunted by those who have lost it: simple, grounded, and devastatingly beautiful. This book is one of the very few things I believe in. I cannot praise the fierce humanity of Howe highly enough...
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Angela S. Gross on May 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
It's rare that a book of contemporary poetry strikes a chord so deep. Howe's, "What the Living Do" is, fortunately, one of those books. Her poetry is naked with emotion and speaks clearly "without irony or condescension." I found "My Dead Friends" to be one of the best. Buy this book. Take it with you on a walk. Sit outside and read in one sitting. You won't be disappointed.
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